Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Madame Doro's

 I came across a bottle of “eau de toilette” the other day while cleaning out my bathroom cupboard. It was very dusty, and after wiping the dust off, I opened it, and to my surprise it still had retained its perfume, sweet and heavy.  On the label is written Fragonard, Grasse, France, and I realized it came from another era, before my children were born, which means at least 47 years ago, when Mimi and I spent a few days at Madame Dorro’s pension just outside Grasse. In fact this dates back to 1961 when we spent a summer in Europe. At that time Grasse was a small town the center of the French perfume industry, and Fragonard one of the main factories for producing perfume. Grasse, high in the Maritime Alps of Provence was a small, picturesque town, surrounded by purple fields of lavender. This was the main crop of the area and you can imagine how it smelt in the summer just before the harvest. Today it still is the center of the perfume industry, but a lot of the fields have been encroached by housing and shopping malls.

I had just finished my undergraduate studies at Cornell, and we had saved enough money to go on a European vacation.  I don’t know how we did it, but before leaving Israel we had planned on a vacation to Italy and France. So we decided now was the time for this, before going out to California and Stanford.  However instead of Italy and France we first went to Scotland to visit my parents, and also my brother who was born after I left home, and was now a small boy of about 10.  I had never seen him before. This would be 1961. While in Glasgow, we met my Uncle David and his wife Lily. They were an unusual pair.  Wee David as he was known was my father’s brother. Although my father was one of 10 children, not one seemed to look like the other.  David was the smallest, and since so many David’s married into the family he was called Wee David.  His wife was likewise known as Wee Lily to distinguish her from Lilly from Falkirk, or Abe’s Lilly, both sisters-in laws to my father. This is what happens in Jewish families where everyone is called after a deceased, and the same names keep on occurring.   Both were quite diminutive, about 5 feet tall. Wee Lily and Wee David were an interesting couple. Lily was considered an outsider since she did not have a Glasgow accent. She came from South of the border and spoke “ posh”. They were also the “ intellectuals “ of the family different from everyone else since they went abroad for the holidays, or went to nudist camps, and to boot were vegetarians, quite rare in those days.  They were also wealthier than most of the others since David was in the furrier business and sold fur coats of his own design in his own store. This was when it was acceptable to sell furs, and it did not interfere idealistically with their life style.  
One purpose of the visit was to introduce Mimi to the family, and in doing the rounds we visited David and Lily in their house in Orchard Park, a wealthier suburb of Glasgow.  We hit it off immediately and they told us of this wonderful place in S. France, a small pension run by a Russian family, which was completely natural, and only served vegetarian food.  Since MImi at that time was also a vegetarian the idea of spending a few days at this pension fell on ready ears. We had planned on going to France and Italy, and since we did not have definite plans this fitted in.

Mimi had been a vegetarian when I met her, out of principle, and continued to be one for many years.  I would order meat at restaurants, but at home we were completely vegetarian. Since Mimi was a good cook it did not bother me too much.  We took the boat to the Hook of Holland after spending some time in London with my Aunt Betty. We stayed a few days in Amsterdam at a student youth hostel, and did the same in Paris. We then took the train down to Grasse. The pension was an old typical French farmhouse set in pretty grounds. The accommodation was quite Spartan, beds in whitewashed rooms, with the bare minimum furniture and commode in the room. The wall had a large crucifix above the bed. Since this was summer we ate outside on large picnic tables shared by the other guests. All of these were French, mostly middle aged, and mostly feminine. They all looked a little worse for wear, long hair, and baggy clothes. I suppose in another era they would have been called hippies (although old ones). We sat beside two women who explained to us in a mixture of English and French their beliefs in Yin and Yang. We did not understand French and they did not understand English.  Meals amused us since it was “pass the dish please,” thank you for passing the dish” and so on. In French of course, This was also the first time either of us had eaten artichokes, which grew readily in the area and were the main fare.  Do you eat it with a knife and fork? What do you do with the hard leaves? Is it polite to scrape the flesh with your teeth? This was a quandary. We closely watched the other guests and followed suite. We somehow conversed with Madame Dorro and her husband, who were white Russians, had escaped from the Russian revolution God know when and had lived in France many years.  The atmosphere was subdued and quiet and the countryside beckoned for long walks, past fields of jasmine and lavender.  It was a great vacation and although the food and company were peculiar we enjoyed it.  The others probably thought we were a honeymoon couple.
We visited the Fragonard factory, one of the oldest in France, and the Fragonard Museum.  This was called after an 18th century painter, Fragonard. Actually his paintings fit with the area, scenes of idyllic pastoral countryside beautifully dressed women and powdered men.  The perfume industry actually was fairly recent, the Fragonard factory being started in 1926. At that time, 1961, it was unusual for men to wear perfume, and I bought this Eau de Toilette with the idea of using it as an after-shave.  Here is this dusty bottle, still three-quarters full, still retaining it strong smell almost 50 years later. It is still too strong and sweet. Should I begin using it now, or wait for it to be sprinkled on my grave? Or perhaps I should give it to my granddaughter as a present with this story attached.  What do you think ?.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Graduate School, Stanford University

Stanford University, Palo Alto, California (1961-66)
The name conjectures up pictures of palm tree, golden sandy beaches, and lush country. What a change after two years in Ithaca, where we were snow bound for a large part of the year, and ran from building to building on campus to keep warm in winter. Although Ithaca was very beautiful, the cold got us down, and one of the major reasons for choosing Stanford over Indiana (the other possible graduate school) was weather.  In those days California was still the “promised land”, relatively empty and just beginning to undergo development. It is difficult to compare it to the California of today.  We got into our old Jalopy, an old Buick, running on three cylinders out of four, or was it five out of six, all our worldly possessions, and drove across the USA. We started from Paul Reifer’s house in Connecticut, across the Mid West, and then through the Rockies and Sierras. We had never been West of New York State. It seemed that the further west one went the larger the portions of food in the restaurants, and we could not believe the unlimited cups of coffee. In New York we paid for each cup, and here we could have refills as much as we wanted for 25 cents, or was it only in the chains like Denny’s which covered much of our journey. This was a long time before Starbucks. We drove on old highway 40 across the country. With difficulty we crossed the Donner Pass, the car chugging along, making a terrible racket, but eventually arriving in Palo Alto, our destination. Even though our car was ancient we passed lots of steaming cars that could not make it over the pass.  These old Buick’s with their large fins were “ dream cars” and could take one anywhere.
 We immediately started looking for an apartment, and found one we could afford (at this time, rent in California was not very different from that of the East Coast).  This was a strip mall style of apartments adjoining the railway line, on the boundaries of Atherton and Menlo Park, a mile or so from campus. The apartment was cheap because of the proximity to the railway line, but it did not bother us too much, since most of the trains were electric commuters between San Francisco and the Bay area. There was a large field of Chinese Herbs separating us from the trains. Atherton was at that time one of the wealthiest towns in the USA. Many retired film stars lived there in huge mansions. Shirley Temple, the childhood idol of the 1940’s was a resident. We of course lived on the wrong side of the railway tracks.
 The apartment was owned by a Mr. and Mrs. Kwong. The Kwong’s grew Chinese Herbs for commercial purposes. Mrs. Kwong spoke very little English, worked in the field all day, and dressed like a Chinese peasant, large coolie hat and simple smock. Mr. Kwong on the other hand dressed like a gentleman; small and dapper, he was the property owner and his wife the field hand. They sold their herbs in the Chinese farmers market or in ChinaTown in San Francisco.
Back to the apartment: It was quite spacious, however the previous tenants must have had a number of dogs (or cats). The place was alive with fleas. One could see them jumping on the walls. We went around the apartment swatting the fleas, drowning them by washing the walls, and trying to sweep them out. They may have died out or left because of lack of food! At least they did not eat us! We had no furniture and no bed and initially no money since bank transfers were slow, so we  left the apartment and drove down to LA to be with Mimi’s parents, who had moved West at around the same time, and had rented a small apartment in Los Angeles. Mimi’s father (Salo) had found a job in the aerospace industry, working first for North American aviation and later for Hughes industry. This put him back in the correct career track, as an engineer, since previously most of the jobs had been rather menial. He had a degree in mathematics from Czernowitz University, but since the war had not been able to teach or work in his subject. They had had a very tough life, first the Soviets moved them out of their house as capitalists, then the Nazi’s persecuted them and put them in the Ghetto with threats of deportation because they were Jewish, then after the war the Russian’s returned, they then fled to Romania and finally they were imprisoned by the British in Cyprus on their way to Palestine They both seemed very happy in California, after the travails of Europe, New York, and being laid off every few months.

We returned after a few days and settled down in our apartment and I started working in the lab and taking courses .

.I should mention that the Kwongs were very nice to us, and in many ways quite funny. Mrs. Kwong was always bringing us dumplings filled with pork. She could not understand why Mimi would not eat them (I did eat them). Mimi at that time was a vegetarian. She had been since I met her, out of principle. To Mrs. Kwong it was strange. She also told us in very bad English that her daughter’s husband would not eat pork, he was a Canadian and he belonged to some “ peculiar” religion that did not allow this. Difficult to understand.!  Although she was from a peasant background and I am not sure whether literate or not, she was very proud of this daughter who had received a Ph.D. from Stanford, and had been photographed with President Eisenhower.  There were photographs of her all over their apartment. 

Stanford University had not yet reached its zenith of excellence. The biology and Medical School were just beginning to be built up with prospective Nobel Prize Winners. These would include Joshua Lederberg, Arthur Kornberg, and Paul Berg, all three of whom I got to know. The Yanofsky lab was in the basement of Jordan Hall part of the quad in the center of the campus. The building was old, there was little light from the outside in the lab, and one had to go outside the building to go to the toilet. The story was that Mrs. Stanford did not approve of men’s toilets being in the buildings. (I do not know what happened with women’s toilets).  I quickly adjusted to the laboratory; there were three new graduate students that year, only one of whom, myself, completed their studies.
 Mimi also found a job as a lab technician working with Dr. Clifford Grobstein, a well-known embryologist. We soon made friends with many of the grad students in both labs and in the department in general, and had an active social life, going to grad parties in the foothills, between Palo Alto and the coast where a group of male students lived. Among these today are quite well known biologists such as John Pierce, Mike Soule, David Cameron , etc. For a change we fitted in and were not “weird foreign students”. If we were regarded as such we were not aware of it ! Even the younger faculty were involved in these social events including the now famous environmentalist Paul Ehrlich and the future head of Food and Drug Administration , Don Kennedy, later the president of Stanford.. I am sometimes surprised that both Don Kennedy and Paul Berg remember me, and I have had some contacts with the latter on scientific matters.
 I really did not have the background for the Yanofsky lab, and I remember my first few seminars were a bit of a disaster, not knowing how to pronounce certain scientific terms, and not really having a grasp of what I was talking about. This was the beginning of the   heyday of molecular biology and the lab was trying to resolve the “ genetic” code, using mutations of the tryptophan synthetase gene, followed by amino acid analysis correlating changes in DNA with changes in the amino acid sequence. This should have been a very exciting project.  I do not know why I decided that my interests were elsewhere, so that rather than joining in the group effort, which was very successful, I looked for an alternative project. Perhaps it was because my first project, to find mutants in E.coli in the tryptophan synthetase gene  using a drug called proflavin did not work.  I decided to work on a sideline, namely to study the integration of a bacteriophage (bacterial virus) into the host DNA. This meant working with a research associate in the lab, Naomi Franklin. This was not a good choice since Naomi was quite possessive about her work, and was always worried that I was stealing her ideas. The work actually led to a couple of publications and a Ph.D. thesis but not to anything great. Other work going on in the lab was more exciting, the discovery of suppressor genes (Stuart Brodie), and work on the structure of the tryptophan synthetase enzyme (Tom Creighton). We were quite friendly with Tom and Judy, who later on moved to Cambridge England. Tom has written a very good book on protein structure.  However he and Judy are no longer together. Another student , Marsha was just completing her Ph.D.  She left the lab during my first year, and went onto MIT. While there she met Tommy Berman, an old friend, whom I Have written about before and married a student with Habonim connections from Edinburgh, and thus after a few years we resumed out connections and have thus become good “ old” friends, seeing each other every few years. Interesting how this connection led back to Tommy, and to other acquaintances of his..
Others in the lab included a group of post-docs. John Hardman (today Professor emeritus at the U. Alabama) , Ted Cox (later a dean at Princeton, now still active at Princeton), Ron Somerville who joined Purdue later on and has just retired,  Bruce Carlton ( dean at Rutgers University )  and Don Helinski ( U. Calif. La Jolla ) . Don became quite well known for his work in genetic engineering. As in any lab there was the usual “ hanky-panky” as one of my friends would say. One of the post-docs and one of the lab technicians were having an affair. We had to cover up for him, as his wife was always calling and we would tell her that he was doing something, such as running the amino acid analyzer and could not be disturbed. I think she later on caught on and sued for divorce. Charlie originally had a strict rule that there should be no “affairs” in the lab, and in fact had asked a post-doc to leave because he (or she) was playing around with one of the other post-docs.
 I know I took a lot of courses at Stanford, but apart from Phys Chemistry where I did horribly, I do not remember all that much. I do remember a course on plant evolution, and the molecular biology courses taught by Yanofsky which I enjoyed, and I fashioned my first course at Indiana University on this.. David Perkins taught a course on Neurospera genetics, and Grobstein on embryology.. I must have learned something since the prelims in part were based on course material. I took a lab course in biochemistry administered by Kornberg, but I do not remember seeing him much in class, but I met the teaching assistant. a few years ago at a meeting at Cornell, where he is now on the faculty. He remembered me, but I did not remember him.
After a year and half in Palo Alto our first child was born (Feb 1963). Mimi decided to stop work just a few days before she gave birth to Yuval.  We moved out of Mr. Kwong’s apartment and rented a small house in Menlo Park. This house is still standing, and has not changed much in 40 some years. We drove by a couple of years ago, and nothing had changed on the street. No apartment complexes as we discovered in S. California in the place we used to live. .
The house in Menlo Park was a small “ neat” house owned by a faculty wife (Mrs. Mazur). It has a nice enclosed porch, a living room, dining room and two bedrooms. Although it seemed substantial after a few days, while our baby, Yuval was out in the porch, the ceiling collapsed in part, but luckily not on the baby. Behind the house on the same lot was a duplex apartment. The nicest feature was the garden, a lawn in front and a wonderful apricot tree on the side. This tree was loaded with the most luscious apricots. In fact the yield was such that we took some to a nearby fruit drying plant for processing. Menlo Park was a great place to live.  In fact when we visited last year the tree was still standing. We were a few blocks from the center of the town (a real town center), and also close to campus. I could cycle to campus without getting caught in traffic, and there was a park where all the young mothers with their children could meet. Palo Alto was even nicer, with a main street lined with decent stores and restaurants, and a movie house. It gave the impressions of a very proseprous town. However if one went towards the highway it changed radically to an area of shacks, bars and liquors stores. This was the influence of Stanford University, which had a  “ dry “ zone around it. The region near the Highway was known as “ whiskey gulch”. A number of our friends lived there because of the low price of housing. This included John Pearse and his wife Cathy with whom, we became very good friends. More about Cathy and John later.
As stated earlier we had a very active social life. Part of this was through the lab. Charlie (as Professor Yanofsky was known) invited the lab after journal club, once a week to his house for coffee and ice cream, and to play croquette, which could be done in the balmy evenings of the bay area. Wives were included and thus everyone got to know each other. It was a very democratic atmosphere, everyone who attended journal club made their way to Charlie’s house in Faculty Housing, a very fancy Eichler home: technicians, graduate students, post-docs and the few undergrads who worked in the lab. Carol Yanofsky was a gracious hostess. Mimi feels that Charlie owes his success to his devoted wife, who took care of everything, leaving him time for science and research.  While I was a graduate student Mimi did the same, devoting her time to bringing up the children, first Yuval, born in 1963 and then Jonathan, in 1965.
During this period I taught my first biology course. This was a general biology lab, and I was a teaching assistant. I was one lab ahead of the students. Most of the material was completely new to me, and much of it I did not understand myself. Don Kennedy, later to become head of the FDA was in charge, and being a neurobiologist a lot of the labs were about measuring electric currents, and physiological measurements in twitching frogs. I was quite a novice in this area. Luckily I had a fellowship so I was required to teach only one semester.
 I had no difficulty passing my preliminary exams, which were a combination or course work and my specialty. All the students took the same first part, and the student’s major professor wrote the second.
We have lost contact with most of our Stanford friends. An occasional Xmas card from some, others no contact.  We did get to know a few of the Israeli students during our time there. One was Alan Rosenthal, whom I had previously met through Habonim in England. He was studying film production. I have not seen him since, but I know he has been quite successful as a documentary film producer, and lives in Jerusalem. Another was Mordecai Kurtz, who was either a post-doc or new assistant professor of economics. He is still at Stanford.
 I should mention one with whom we became close friends. This was a young assistant professor from Glasgow. His brother Terry Davidson had been visiting his family in Glasgow from Jerusalem where he was a physician. While in Glasgow, my parents who were friends of his parents, contacted him and asked him to deliver regards. Somehow it was in the local Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Echo that he would be visiting Stanford.  Thus through Terry we met his brother Julian, and wife Ann. Julian was an endocrinologist testing various sex hormones in rats. In fact he bored holes into the rat brains , added the hormones and studied their behaviour.. We found we had quite a lot in common, a common kibbutz background and children the same age. We both had spent time in Israel, were from similar Scottish backgrounds and similar youth movements. Julian had been active in Glasgow B’nei Akivah, and had been one of the model characters in Chaim Bermant’s book “Jericho sleep alone”.   Ben his son and Yuval our son would soon be playing together. We all got along very well. Julian was a bit “ far out” more than I was. Later on when I visited the family a few years later, I found that Julian had continued searching for the “truth” by spending time in a Buddhist monastery in Nepal. We would meet quite regularly and after we left Stanford, we made attempts to see them when we occasionally visited the Bay-area.
 At a very early age of 59 Julian developed Alzheimer’s disease. We did visit him at the early stages of the disease, and he could not remember his way back from the physiology building to his house. It was very sad. Ann his wife has written a book of her experiences of nursing and living with someone at the late stages of Alzheimer’s. Julian died after the long illness in 2001, at the age of 70. We have kept contact with Ann and have visited her a few times.
 Among other friends were Marsha and Mathew Allen mentioned above  Marsha was a graduate student and we overlapped for a short period of time. Mathew was a physics student, also from Scotland, and it turned out we had once been to the same Habonim camp. Marsha had gone onto MIT and got to know Tommy Berman, my old childhood friend from Glasgow. Thus our friends form a “ circle”.
California in those days was relatively cheap and empty compared with today. Palo Alto had a wonderful climate, sunny and warm, and there was really no need for air conditioning. We saw a lot of the State, going quite often to the National Parks with the children, and camping at the foothills of the Sierras. Our camping was quite primitive, sleeping outside with sleeping bags, rather than having a tent. Other campers thought us very poor. We were no into fancy camping equipment. We even had others give us items thinking we were too poor to afford them. There certainly was a feeling of camaraderie among the campers. We would drive up North to Lassen National Park, which was always empty. Occasionally we would go to the opera in San Francisco. We were always surprised by the difference in climate between San Francisco and Palo Alto. Whereas in Palo Alto it was warm and sunny, we would travel 20 miles into the fog and cold. It was like living in two different worlds.
Towards the end of my Ph.D., I started to think about a post-doc position.  We wanted to stay in California, primarily because of Salo and Rutta ( Mimi’ parents), and the relationship they had to the children. I discussed the options with Charlie, and although I thought of Dulbecco’s lab at La Jolla, he suggested I work with John Holland at University of California Irvine, which had just opened up. I wanted to continue working in the field of virology. I think he did not think I was “ high powered enough” for the Dulbecco lab, a very large group. John Holland on the other hand had a very small group and was not as well known as Dulbecco. In retrospect I think it was a mistake, since John and I never really hit it off. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cornell University and graduate school decision

Cornell University. 1959-61.

The town of Ithaca is very hilly with Cornell University situated at the top of the hills. The town could be divided into two parts, college town, surrounding the campus, with lots of run-down apartment (student housing) and in my opinion firetraps and larger clap board houses running all the way  down the hill to the downtown, which was predominantly built in the 1920’s style. Here and there particularly along the canyons were spacious stone or brick houses built probably at the turn of the 20th century. The major department store on State St. was Rothschild’s. Driving in the town was extremely hazardous, and vehicles required chains in the winter months.
Unlike our first attempt at living in Ithaca, this time we had applied for and received married student housing. Cornell quarters was a large area of small duplex huts left over from the US army. The huts were small, one bedroom and a small living area with kitchen. To us they were heaven since they gave us a sense of ownership, and being on our own, although there were times when we could hear the next-door couple quite clearly either arguing or have sex. We got to know a number of our neighbors, and I would walk into campus every morning with a student from Ghana, whom I suspect became one of their minister’s of agriculture. The whole area had a superintendent or janitor, a Mr. Bell, a kind, middle-aged man who offered after a few months to teach me how to drive an automobile (our first car). The quarters were very extensive and looked like the internment camps used for the Japanese during WWII.
Even though I had a fellowship, which covered part of my expenses at Cornell, we both needed to work to sustain ourselves. Mimi found a good job as a lab technician in the chemistry department with Dr. Harold Scheraga, who is considered one of the great protein chemists of his time. She was an assistant to some of his graduate students and post-docs studying the enzyme ribonuclease’s physical structure.  I in the meantime found a part time job in the main library, cataloging books dealing with Jewish subjects. I was hired because I was able to read Hebrew.  Later on I dealt with cataloging government documents.  This latter  job was very boring but it did bring in minimum wages.
 I also worked for Dr. Marble in the poultry husbandry department, who was the contact with Ben Adam in Israel, recording weights of eggs and matching these to specific hens. I occasionally did some plowing for Dr. Baker, my advisor in the department of Poultry Husbandry. Dr. Baker was a very typical American, large and forceful. His specialty was marketing and he organized and ran the Cornell University Booth at the New York State Fair. We students were expected to man this booth and persuade the public to buy chicken hot dogs, which at that time was quite a novelty.  We also had to participate in poultry judging. I also had to take a class in this, and I found it very difficult to feel up a hen or cockerel and judge its health and quality.  In fact it was poultry judging which began to make me think twice as to whether I was in the right field.  I could tell the difference between a skinny chicken and a fat one, but to judge by feathers and look the chicken in the eye and judge its health was beyond my abilities. Dr. Baker is still alive and in his retirement has opened a 30-acre farm of gardens and nursery stock, as well as a cafĂ© near Ithaca.  This is probably the same farm that I plowed as an undergraduate.
I got a very good education in Poultry Husbandry. I took a class in avian anatomy taught by a famous poultry geneticist, Robert Hutt. I knew the name of every bone, in the chicken and every hole in that bone by the time I finished the course.  I still have somewhere the term paper I wrote (probably the first in my life) on the feather and its development. Mimi did the much-needed drawings for the paper.  I actually found feather development and structure fascinating. Knowing all the bones and joints of the chicken has helped with carving at the table. Unfortunately Turkeys are not built the same way, and they still give me difficulty.
Another feature of Cornell avian life was the ornithology center. It was situated outside the campus in Sapsucker woods. It was a place to sit and watch the birds, and had wonderful exhibits.  We have been back a few times since I graduated and we always head to this and to Cornell Gardens, an area of beautiful extensive gardens and green houses. One of the main attraction of Cornell campus, are the extensive flower gardens. The campus of Cornell is very beautiful, not so much the actual buildings of the campus, which in these days tended to be mock –Gothic, or built in the utilitarian style of the turn of the 20th century but for natural beauty. The campus, or at least part of it was within walking distance of Cornell Quarters, and since we did not have a car, and I do not remember a campus bus, we must have walked every day. The campus and surrounding area is full of canyons, waterfalls, and lakes formed by glacial movement. It is close to the Finger Lakes about 200 miles North of New York City. In fact Ithaca is at the head, the southern end, of one of the lakes, Lake Cayuga. Apart from the gulley’s, canyons and Water Falls on the campus there is a small lake which in our time had a small restaurant where one could have a snack or cup of tea. This was Beebe Lake and Noyes Lodge. This was not too far from the chemistry building and we would meet there for lunch, and remark on the other students who appeared too poor to even buy tea, and would bring their own tea bags.  One could sit for hours looking at the lake, and the waterfalls. Noyes Lodge is no more and has been turned into a language resource center.  Unfortunately a lot of that beauty has been spoiled by expansion and the crowding of buildings.  I was at Cornell, perhaps 4 years ago, and although still beautiful, the campus was ruined by excessive over building. However one can still bathe in ButtermilK Falls and climb up to the upper park and surroundings.

Although the summers were idyllic, the winters  in upstate New York were unbelievably cold. Ithaca was in the snow belt of upstate New York and it is no exaggeration to say that  there was 3-4 feet or more of snow  on the ground all winter long.  We would have ice form in the corner of our little hut in Cornell Quarters. And to get to the school, we would wrap ourselves up with multiple layers of clothing and run from building to building until we arrived at the correct one. From Cornell quarters we would walk past the cattle barn, famous for its dairy and ice cream, through the Ag school, and eventually reach the chemistry building, frozen stiff. For the first year we had no car and no washing machine, so that we would lug a load of laundry in a basket or bag through the snow and bring it back damp from the Laundromat. In the spring this would be hung out to dry a very European idea.
Chemistry where Mimi worked was not in the Ag school and had just moved into a new building near the lake. This was an architectural experiment in which all the pipes, made of a transparent plastic were out in the open, and one could see the drainage from the sinks flow through them. It somehow reminded me of the Pompidou center in Paris.
We had quite an active social life. Through Mimi’s work we met Jan and her husband Ed who was a physics major.  They were an interesting couple from some small town in Virginia. I think they thought us very exotic, having never met Jews before. However we would go out together, and we have maintained contact to this day.  We went to our first Football game together Ed is I believe one of the inventors of the Star Wars Missile shield, proposed during the Reagan era. He has been very successful as a missile engineer, and Jan has been involved in various businesses. They now have retired to Maine.
 I have mentioned previously my cousin Ralph. He was the son of my grandfather’s brother, thus really a first cousin to my mothers. He and his wife were very Irish, from Dublin, and had quite a number of Irish friends. They were a happy lot, often a little drunk, ( not Ralph and Muriel )  and to us a bit crazy. They lived in what was called College town, an area close to the gates of campus.  They lived in an old wooden Victorian style ramshackle building that I was sure would catch fire one day.  I never expected to see it still standing and looking as dangerous as it did 50 years ago but there it was a few years ago, still the same. We often went out to the only movie house in town, and to the few cafes on the main street. While we were in Ithaca their first child, Susan was born and we were the first baby sitters. Susan of course is now a mother of two children, and I see her quite often, she lives in the Washington DC area.  Ralph was a graduate student in soil microbiology, and later went on to have an endowed chair in the department of engineering at Harvard.

After one year we bought our first car and I learned to drive.  It was a white and red Buick, quite a monster by today’s standards. The body was a little rusted and apparently it ran on 5 out of 6 cylinders. It was very noisy and could be heard for miles.  I was taught to drive by Mr. Bell the super at Cornell Quarters. Since there were so many parking lots nearby, it was not difficult to find an open space to practice driving. I got my driving license after one test. The car had automatic transmission, which made it easy, compared to later on when I drove a stick shift, while on sabbatical in England.  I quickly got used to the roads of Ithaca, and later on I would occasionally drive to New York City and actually drive in the city and surroundings. One major characteristic of all the cars in Ithaca was their rustiness. Since there was so much salt on the roads, car rusted very quickly. My cousin Ralph who occasionally drove us around had a car with no bottom, that is one could almost pedal with ones feet it was so rusty, in particular on the passenger side.
 Graduate School decision:
While I was still toying with the idea of going back to Israel and working for the Ministry of Agriculture, a Dr. Bornstein appeared on the horizon. He was visiting the department to deliver a seminar, and we invited him over for tea. During the course of conversation he inquired of my plans, and when I told him that after the bachelor’s degree, I planned on returning to Israel and applying for my “ old ‘ job back, he thought that this was not such a great idea, but rather since I had been quite successful with course work, that I should go on for the MS or MA in agriculture. This took me by surprise, since I had really never given it a thought, and really had no idea even how to begin to apply to graduate school.   However my interest in poultry husbandry had also began to wane, and I was not sure that this was my future path. In fact I took an elementary course in microbiology from Dr. Van Denmark and found it quite interesting.
 At this time I was taking a class in genetics from Dr. Everett, a plant geneticist. This was a very basic genetics course dealing with Mendelian genetics. One day I talked to him after class, and asked his advice. He suggested I write directly to top individuals in the field of genetics, and gave me a list, among whom were Nobel Prize winners as well as future Nobel Laureates.  These included Hermann Muller of Indiana University, and Joshua Lederberg of Stanford, as well as professors at Berkeley, Michigan, and the Rockefeller.  I sent in my applications to these various laboratories and schools, as well as to Purdue University Poultry Husbandry as a back up.  These were the day before the GRE was required, and admission depended on grades and letters of reference.  If I remember correctly the application had to be in by December, but admission letters with offers were sent out in Mid-April. Before the time, probably in March I received a letter from Purdue, offering me a full fellowship in the Department of Poultry Husbandry with a request for an immediate answer.  This threw me into a tizzy, since I did not want to say yes, before I had heard from the other schools.  I wrote to the other schools, telling them the situation. I got a long letter back from Hermann Muller explaining that I should not give into Purdue’s pressure. He could not tell me whether the answer from IU would be positive but that Purdue was behaving in an unethical fashion (I did not know at that time of the rivalry between Purdue and IU). On the basis of this letter I decided to wait, and I must have responded to Purdue somewhat ambiguously.
 Sure enough in Mid April I got an offer both from Indiana and Stanford of a full fellowship (NIH training grant). I may have also received a positive response from Berkeley and Michigan but without support. Mimi and I debated the relative pros and cons of both places, and after having spent two years in “ cold” Ithaca we opted for warm Stanford and California.  How different my scientific career might have been if we had gone to IU. There I would have been in the lab of Hermann Muller and studied classical drosophila genetics.  I have been told that he was rather a difficult person, so I do not know whether I could have stuck it out. Josh Lederberg wrote that he did not have any room in his laboratory, but that he had passed my file on to a new colleague, Charles Yanofsky, and that I would work in his laboratory. This turned out to be one of the major laboratories in the country deciphering the genetic code.  Of course if I had studied at IU I probably would not be in Bloomington today.  How ironic! Life is full of such accidental happenings.  In fact this sequence of events, the visit by Bornstein, the talk to Everett, and the letter from Herman Muller basically put me on a different career pathway, and changed my life. We had given up the idea of returning to Israel for the time being, and eventually moved to Palo Alto and Stanford, California, which later on influenced all of Mimi’s family. Almost the whole family, including Mimi’s Uncle from New York and family moved to California.  Thus we started a Western migration.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Arrival in the USA

New York: 1958

We arrived in New York towards the end of August 1958. We had $10 in our pocket (perhaps it was a little more or less), and our plans were to take the bus directly to Ithaca, New York, where I had been accepted to Cornell University.  However it was the week before school began, and the type of housing available shocked us. We really had no idea what to expect. We had not registered for student housing, and looked at old decrepit clapboard houses, with an offer to rent provisional on cleaning snow, or accommodation some times in a basement with no windows. Most would have cost us more than any salary Mimi could earn. Having just arrived from white, gleaming Haifa, everything seemed gloomy and grey. Actually Ithaca itself is in a very beautiful area, but the town looked very run down. Since I was  considered  a “foreign student”, from Israel, an Israeli student, David Prihar took us around and from him we got an idea of the expenses incurred in attending Cornell. I could call these years of our life the years of naivety. Certainly this was not the America we had imagined. I think our impressions of the USA were formed by movies of the 1950’s and not the reality of the country. It was obvious that it was going to be too difficult to move to Ithaca, at this time and go to school. I could not afford the tuition, and thus we opted back to New York City to live with Rutta and Salo (Mimi’s parents) who had just moved into an apartment in the Bronx.
We also learned from David of the presence of another “ Israeli” student, actually from Ireland but with a connection to Israel, Ralph Mitchell. Since my mothers’ maiden name was Mitchell and I had heard vaguely of family living in Dublin and Belfast, I was anxious to contact this Ralph.  I called and asked whether he had any connection to the Glasgow Mitchells, and he said “ yes, he had visited his uncle many years ago”. This was probably my grandfather or more likely my mother’s Uncle Robert, who also had some Irish connection, having lived in Belfast for a few years. From my Aunt Betty’s writings I have learned recently that my great grandmother, and thus Ralph’s grandmother had died in Belfast after an IRA attack on a nearby barracks.  Thus Ralph was my mother’s first cousin, and we had found a new relative in the USA. Interestingly Ralph was studying for the Ph.D. in microbiology. If I had not been so set on studying Poultry Husbandry, I might have met and discussed the future of microbiology and this science with him. As it was, we agreed to get together sometime during the year with him and his wife Muriel in New York City.  I also found out that he had been in Habonim in Dublin and that we had quite a number of mutual acquaintances. He had also spent a year at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel before coming to Cornell.
Mimi’s father had been living with his brother Paul and family. Rutta had arrived without knowing that we would be coming and they had found a nice apartment on 190th Street and the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. Thus we moved into the apartment and slept in the living room. We paid Rutta and Salo a nominal sum (I can not remember how much) for room and board. Mimi’s Uncle Paul had been living in the USA since some time in the mid 30’s. He and his wife Dushka had two daughters, Claudette and Madeleine.  Madeleine was approximately Mimi’s age, and she helped me with enrolling in classes at CCNY, which is where I started studying.   I do not remember meeting “ Claudie”. She and her father had a terrible row. Apparently he wanted her to lead a “ social” life of dance, mix with a certain set, wear makeup, all of which she refused to do. She was interested in more intellectual pursuits, even having the idea of immigrating to Israel. This Paul was very much against. She thus left home and lived with a man, Dick (I do not know whether they were married or not) and had two children under very primitive conditions, some say in the “woods” of Connecticut. Claudie ended up having many children, Dick a drug addict, and as can be expected, many problems later on.  Mimi’s uncle Paul was a very domineering person. He was a physician in the Veteran’s hospital, always dressed formally with a bow tie and jacket, and insisted in everyone behaving like him, being “ American”.   In fact at one time he did not approve of my dress (open shirt, no tie) and made some caustic remarks about dressing like a kibutznick. This was a time when the USA was much more formal than now. Dushka on the other hand was a very submissive and kindly person, and I don’t know how she stood all these years of marriage with Paul.  More about them and the family in another chapter.  We had quite a number of “ Reifer” relatives in New York, whom we would occasionally visit. Thus we had a new family.
What about my education? This was the reason for coming to the States! Had we made a mistake?  Living in the Bronx was certainly not my dream of the US. In fact it was not all that better than living in Glasgow. Actually having revisited Glasgow recently living in the Bronx was probably a little better at that time. This area of the Bronx, 190th and Grand Concourse was considered an upscale Jewish middle-class neighborhood. The major landmark was Alexander’s department store on the Grand Concourse, which was a busy shopping street. The neighborhood was quite safe. We had advice from Salo and also from Mimi’s uncle Paul, as to the course to take for the future and it was decided that the best plan was for me to attend evening school at CCNY to take basic courses, so that when we did go back to Cornell the following year it would be easier to get credit (I still was not familiar with this whole idea of credits).  I thus enrolled in courses in freshman physics, chemistry, geology, and a few other electives. I took a psychology course, of which all I remember was the lecturer standing on the desk to make a point. I do not recall having learned very much, although I did finish with A’s. However in the geology class we made many field trips to the New Jersey Palisades to study the different strata, I enjoyed the field trips, the course was well taught, and the geology course was the most interesting. I also did learn some basic physics, mechanics, not anything too difficult no quantum mechanisms or high powered physics.. However it did give me a semester of credit later on at Cornell and speeded up my eventual graduation. Mimi meanwhile found a job as a lab technician with the cosmetic company, Revlon, working in an analytical chemistry lab. She earned enough to support both of us through this period. The lab was situated in Harlem, and she had to travel by subway to get there. This was quite unpleasant in the winter when it was dark, and we often worried about safety. In fact after Haifa, New York seemed to us quite dangerous, with drunks, pickpockets and other petty crime.  The upper Bronx was not bad, but the area of CCNY around 125th street was undergoing change and was quite seedy and run down.
 I went down to the HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) office in Manhattan and they were successful in finding me a job. In fact they found me a series of jobs, none of which lasted very long. First as a bookkeeper in the fruit market. This job lasted approximately one day, since the owner could not read my handwriting, which tends to be small and messy, and I had no idea how to balance the books.  I then worked in a small workshop that made tools for sculptors and artists, certainly a job with very limited potential, and then later on after this job fizzled (not through any fault of mine) packaging neon lights for a wholesaler. These jobs paid very little and were quite far from the Bronx. In fact these were in the predominantly Ukrainian section of lower Manhattan, below 14th Street, what at that time was a poor neighborhood, but today has been gentrified and full of skyscrapers and high -rise apartments.   Exasperated with the situation of poor paying lousy jobs, I began to look in the New York Times Classified section. I found a job advertised for a person with mathematical experience. In fact it asked for a degree in mathematics.
Although I did not have degree in mathematics, I had sat the London University Matriculation (High School) external exams. Mimi tutored me in this. I did not do very well in mathematics, however I just mentioned London University to the person doing the interviewing, and I was hired on the spot. No one asked to see my credentials and I did not lie. I think Howie my new boss just assumed I had a degree in mathematics, or it really did not matter since no one else had a degree in math. The company was called Arbitron, a TV and radio rating company. Small electronic gadgets were placed in individuals TV sets, and we in the office on 53rd Street received a transmission indicating what channels people were watching at any specific time. This was recorded and then we calculated what percentage of a population (in a specific city) was watching that program. The extent of the mathematics was calculating percentages on a Monroe calculator! It was a great job, it paid well and my work colleagues were terrific.
“Arbitron or ARB was founded as American Research Bureau by Jim Seiler in 1949 and became bi-coastal by merging with L.A. based Coffin, Cooper and Clay in the early 1950s. ARB's initial business was the collection of television broadcast ratings exclusively. The company changed its name to Arbitron in the mid 1960s. The name came from the Arbitron System that was one of ARB's products; a central statistical computer with leased lines to viewers' homes to monitor their activity. Deployed in New York, it gave instant ratings data on what people were watching.” A reporting board would light up to indicate what home was watching what broadcast. We would record this and thus calculate the results. This information was then sold to the networks and advertisers for large (enormous) sums of money. In fact it give me some idea of how much money changed hands in the advertising and TV industry.
 It was interesting to note how fickle the public could be. Wagon Train was one of the most popular programs. Anytime President Eisenhower addresses the nation there would be massive switching of channels. Westerns always won out.  In these days there were no more than 6-7 channels available, the three major networks and a few local N.Y. channels.
The group of co-workers at ARB was really terrific.  There was Howard, the boss, a rather portly 30 something, then the work crew of Harvey (BS in history), Robert (part time Opera singer and actor), Thelma (ex beauty queen of somewhere in NY), and Victor, of whom I do not remember very much, other than that he had a great sense of humor. We all worked in the same office on 3rd Avenue and 53rd street.
Robert was quite a character. He loved women, particularly women with black stockings. He would stand by the window, looking out over 3rd Avenue, and as soon as a woman passed by with black stockings he would run down the stairs, catch up with her, and somehow (or so it seemed) arrange a subsequent date, if her face matched her legs. It was a sort of fetish that all of us laughed at. We   really did not believe his stories. He claimed the best place to pick up young women was the New York Metropolitan Museum (or MoMa). The technique was to approach the victim, who had to be wearing black stockings, and enter into conversation on the painting being viewed, and then enchant his way into bed or at least a date. These were the days before the sexual revolution although I do not think he had any inhibitions. He was quite a charmer, was good-looking, very Italian and had great style.
 Two years later while at Cornell University, we became acquainted with a couple of fairly attractive female, Israeli students.  They were planning a weekend in New York City. Bihla, the older of the two wore black sheer nylons, which were in fashion in these days. After the weekend in the city, she told us that she had surprisingly met an acquaintance of ours at the Met. She in fact confirmed the stories we had heard from Robert, she was wearing black stockings and he had picked her up as described by getting into an “ art” conversation. I don’t know what happened after that, other than my name came up in conversation, and regards got back to me.  I met Robert many years later, after having completed my Ph.D. and attending a meeting in New York, and found a rather down and out ex-actor, most of the charm having gone, and carrying a broken arm, as the result of being thrown out of the window by an another actor who found him in flagrante with his wife. He was still performing in summer stock in Upstate New York.  I would really have like to have spent more time with this guy; it would have been very interesting to hear his life story.
I was to return to ARB again during my years at Cornell for summer employment. My time spent there was very enjoyable, not because of the work, but because of the company. Howard asked me many times to stay on and not return to Ithaca, that I could have a permanent job. If I had done so, and moved up in the company as others did I could have retired as a millionaire at the age of 40. ! I never really gave it a second thought, since our idea was still to return to Israel, after obtaining my BS in agriculture ( still thinking chickens). I was still very much an idealist, and both Mimi and I agreed that this was our aim. Also the idea of living in New City did not appeal to Mimi. We did not consider ourselves permanent immigrants to the US; this was just a temporary situation, a first step in my education. I really have no idea what happened to other members of the group at ARB. I know that Harvey, the history major retired early, since I contacted him on my visit to New York. ARB is still in existence, but not nearly as successful as it rival Neilson, and recently it has run afoul of the State of New York Legal System.
 I do not want to give the impression that life in New York was gloomy, far from it. We enjoyed the lovely countryside at weekends going out with Rutta and Salo; we explored the area north of New York City, the Hudson River, and Bear Park Mt. I loved going to the Cloisters just north of Manhattan. We went for walks in the Bronx zoo and botanical gardens, one of the best in the world. We went to concerts at Carnegie Hall  (Van Cliburn was the rage), to the Metropolitan opera, to the museums. Our social life was not bad either. We had family in the city, Mimi’s cousins, we made friends with other students, met with an old friend from Glasgow/Israel, Tommy Berman whom I have mentioned before, and spent a few weeks on the island of Nantucket that first summer, a place we loved to return to.  We also met Ralph Mitchell and wife Muriel, by listening for someone with an Irish accent on Columbus Circle one Sunday afternoon. We immediately became friends, a friendship that has lasted all our lives. This is an interesting story in itself. We had no idea what Ralph and his wife looked like. We arranged to meet in Columbus circle on a Saturday afternoon, not realizing how busy it would be with people going to the movies or just walking around.  My wife had the bright idea of each one of us seperately  following all the couples of suitable age and listening for an Irish accent, which we knew they had after our telephone conversations. After about 30 minutes of this she recognized the accent, stopped and asked a couple if they were Ralph and Muriel and of course they were. Looking back it seems ridiculous, looking for someone with an Irish accent in New York. There are probably more Irishmen in the city than in Ireland itself.
I joined the international student organization at CCNY. Immediately we were befriended by a couple of students, one I remember Albert; the other I cannot remember his name. Both were left wing Jewish students who identified with the Soviet Union rather than with United States. We went to a few parties with them and a few meetings. I felt very out of place with this group, as did Mimi. Although from a socialist background, we did not identify with communism or feel sympathy for their cause. However through them we met other students from Nigeria, Ghana and other African countries.  It was an interesting period.  Dances were held at the international center and one did not know with whom you would end up dancing with. Mimi ended up dancing with someone with tribal markings on his face. She thought they were paint and only in the light did she see they were scarified markings. She was quite shocked. I think both of us were rather insular, never having been exposed to such exotic people. At the time we left Israel, Africans were rather rare. This was before the immigration of Ethiopian Jews.
Politics did not interest us too much. This was the height of the cold war and everyone worried about an atomic bomb attack.  I remember on New Years Eve we went to see the movie “on the beach” about an atomic war, with just a few survivors in Australia. It was a depressing film and why we went to see it at New Year is beyond me now. 
During this period I became a resident of New York State, since I worked and paid taxes in the State. On the advice of Tommy I applied for a fellowship for Jewish boys in farming, and since my intention was to join the Poultry Husbandry Department at Cornell, I certainly qualified for the fellowship. I had received a deferment of a year from Cornell. Thus after one year in New York City we set of again for Cornell University. By this time I had applied for student housing and that was obtained, in Cornell Quarters, old army duplex huts, reminiscent of my days in the kibbutz and army in Israel.  I had a fellowship, low tuition because of residency, and we had saved somme money.Thus in the summer of 1959 we arrived at Cornell University

Friday, September 24, 2010

Wedding and leaving Israel

The wedding was supposed to be a simple affair, but this being Israel it was more complicated than necessary. The date was fixed for February 24th in a wedding hall, Weiss on Rehov Herzl in the Hadar  (center) of Haifa. It would be catered, and Mimi’s mother would do the baking. I invited my parents to come from Scotland, but only my mother and my sister Beatrice came.
 Before we could get married I had to prove that I was born into a Jewish family. We had to have an interview with a Rabbi at the Rabbinate in Haifa. My proof of Jewishness was a couple of letters (or was it one?) from the secretary of the kibbutz, that he had known me for a number of years and that I came from a good “ kosher” family. Interestingly, and never investigated was the fact that the mazkir (secretary) of the kibbutz was himself not Jewish, being Lionel H who had joined our group because of a girl friend while we were on Hachshara in England.  The Rabbi made it clear to Mimi that the wedding could not take place without her going through the “ mikveh” for purification purposes.  Mimi balked at this and decided she would skip this step, and not obtain certification. It is customary to go to the mikveh as close to the wedding as possible. She said, “ If they will not marry us we will live in sin but no mikveh!”
A few days before the wedding my mother and Beatrice, my sister arrived. I think there was general fear on both my mother’s part and on Rutta’s (Mimi’s mother) part, on meeting each other. I think Rutta expected the “British Lady type” which my mother was not, and my mother really did not know what to expect. Whether they actually liked each other or not, I don’t know. I was probably very rude to my mother on her arrival in Israel, since having not seen her for many years; I was not prepared for someone so changed. Also she wore a ridiculous small hat, and her hair was dyed an unusual blonde color. I suppose I said something like “ what happened to your hair” which did not get us off to a good start. Both of them moved in with us, in our small apartment in Kiryat Bialik. I do not know how we managed. I am sure the atmosphere was quite tense.
The wedding day itself was a beautiful day. Mimi still did not have a certificate showing that she had been to the Mikveh and was under pressure from her uncle Yaakov to get one. This was a surprising turn of events, since Yaakov was one of the ‘Old’ pioneers of nearby Kiryat Haim, known for its secularism and socialism. I do not think he had ever been to “ shul” since leaving Europe in the 1930s. Mimi went to the Mikvah, offered to pay but not go in, and of course was turned down.  All of this fuss was for naught, since at no time did the Rabbi officiating the ceremony ever ask for proof.   Mimi was a beautiful bride, very radiant. The Rabbi turned up with a small chupah (canopy) and when he saw that the wedding was quite large, he had to send his assistant for a larger one, thus a delay in the service. (This would make a great cartoon).  I do not recollect who was at the wedding, except that a lorry load of people came from the kibbutz, both Mimi’s friends from the Kiryot and my friends from the Garin. It was a joyful wedding, lots of joking and dancing. During the service Mimi had a fit of giggling, and none of us were very respectful of the religious ceremony. I think my mother was shocked at our behavior.
 We went back to the apartment and my attempt to carry my bride over the threshold ended when I tripped over some barbed wire surrounding the small patch of lawn in front of the house, and ripped the trouser leg of my “ new” wedding suit. The next day it poured all day. This was my one day off work and our honeymoon. 
 One incident that does stand out in my memory for some reason occurred while we were crossing the road to get wedding photos. We were all dressed for the wedding when a young man stopped me in the middle of the street with “Milton. How are you? Have not seen you for along time etc.” here was I rushing to be photographed and this guy wanted a conversation in the middle of the main street in Haifa. He did not pay any attention to Mimi (in her white wedding gown) and seemed oblivious to what I was saying. He was someone I had met on the boat coming over, I think a sailor, and he just wanted to stand and talk. I had to apologize since Mimi began to fume; I broke off our conversation and ran to the photographers.  I do not know why this sticks in my mind. I never met this guy again, and do not know who he was.
My mother stayed for a week, and she and Beatrice did some touring. I don’t think she was impressed by Israel. I do not know what she expected, but Haifa to her seemed shabby, no large department stores, and I suppose it was backward compared to Britain. It was still a third world country, with crowded buses. I remember her complaining how everyone would talk to her on the bus, ask her questions, and just be themselves (Jews-Israeli’s), not like the reserve one finds among the British.   Yet my mother had the reputation of talking to strangers on the bus in Glasgow!
 This was a year fraught with problems, which actually turned out to be minor and had positive results. I am not certain of the order in which they occurred, but the effect on us was profound. After 6 months at work, I was told I would be laid off for one or two days. This was in order not to give me a permanent position, and thus not have to pay me fringe benefits, retirement etc.  Apparently although I was doing my job well, I could not be hired permanently since I did not have the required qualifications for the position. Although I thought this very unjust, this was an agreement between government ministries and the Histadruth, the Israeli trade union organization. The Histadruth did not seem to offer much protection for its workers. This pattern would continue no matter how long I worked for the government. I discussed this with Mr. Ben Adam, the head of the department, and he suggested the best course of action since I was still young was to apply to universities in Israel and the States, and that he would support such an application.  He suggested I apply to Cornell University in Upstate New York where he had friends in the Department   of Poultry Husbandry, a very respected department in a very good school. Of course I felt there was little chance of my being accepted, since I did not have a high school certificate. Mimi came up with the idea of my studying at home, she would be my tutor, and I would sit the London University matriculation exams (highers) that summer, with the hope of getting into one of the universities. She tutored me in Chemistry and Hebrew, and I studied ancient Greek History, and English. I did take these exams at the end of that summer, and passed in all the subjects. Thus I applied to the Hebrew University School of Agriculture in Rehovot, West of Scotland College of Agriculture in Glasgow, and Cornell University School of Agriculture.
 Sometime in that year, I think probably in March, my grandmother Mitchell, in Glasgow died and left me some money. Although we always thought of her as a rich woman, very little was found. I learned the story of her death some time after, which was a mystery and I am not certain I really know all the facts. However she left us I think 300 pounds sterling, which was quite a bit in those days. This was before we had made any decision about coming to the US. In fact it must have been a couple of months after our wedding, and our decisions to come to the States were not made until the summer of 1957. We decided we would use the money to take a vacation in Italy, something Mimi had been dreaming of for years. In order to do so we both needed permission from the army, since Mimi was of military age, and I was needed for reserve duty.
Mimi went to the office of the ministry of defense to get permission to leave and sat for a whole morning without seeing anyone. The secretary in charge announced that the office would close for an hour for lunch. Mimi lost her temper and barged in to the inner office yelling that she had wasted a morning of her precious time, and that she would report this to higher ups (Ben Gurion) since she was an employee of the Ministry. This threat seemed to work and she got her exit permit very quickly after the threat.  However she was asked stupid questions like, "why are you going to Italy?” On vacation, "Whom are you staying with?” No one, in a hotel, “which Hotel?” I don’t know. “What, how can you go abroad without knowing anyone?” etc. etc.
 I had no problems getting released, and there was some mix up at the office of the ministry of interior, resulting in my using my British passport to leave Israel. I will not go into this complication.
Mimi’s mother was also making plans to travel to the USA to join her husband who had been there two years. She had barely made a living all these years by being a dressmaker, and Salo had from time to time sent her some money.  She received notification from the income tax office that she owed them some astronomical sum (a few thousand dollars). She was in shock, went to the office, and was told, that this was just a technique to get people to come in, since if they sent her a bill for a few dollars she might not pay any attention to it. This was the way the bureaucracy worked.  In writing this it reads as if we lived in a Kafkaesque state. Perhaps it was at that time.  Anyone leaving Israel was looked down upon and was considered a “Yored”. Going down as opposed to an ‘Oleh’ ‘going up to the Holy Land’. For many years the status of Yored was an embarrassment.
We were very happy that first year of married life, and really did not like the idea of leaving Israel. We lived on a limited budget, but lived quite well. We had budgeted for all items, like buying books, buying records, going out to eat (very rare in Israel those days), and had planned our vacation in Italy. We were surrounded by friends both “ Anglo Saxim” and Israeli.  We even were invited to our first cocktail party by one of Mimi’s “ friends” in Haifa. Here we both discovered we did not like that type of entertainment or social group. We had no desire to get drunk or stoned.  We stood around holding our one drink and making inane conversation.  I suppose we were beginning to see the changes that were to occur in Israeli society in general (alcohol, drugs etc) but it seemed another world to us. These were kids with no idealism in a country still full of ideals. I suppose I have got used to the cocktail circuit, and enjoy a drink  or two, but still find the small talk tiring and stupid.
 In general we had a positive attitude, and were the center of social activity for those who had left the kibbutz. Our house was always open, and we had lots of visitors from the kibbutz. We also had a large family in the Haifa area, Mimi having aunts and uncles and of course lots of cousins about our age or younger. There were many “ funny “ things that happened to us and we took as a joke. We applied for housing for immigrants from Anglo-Saxon countries (since we did not want to live with Mimi’s mother for long, although that changed when she decided to go to the States). I was told that the organization of immigrants from Anglo Saxon  countries ( U.K. USA, S. Africa) could not help us, since we were a “ mixed” marriage, that is a Romanian Jew with a British one!
 It was now about July and I had not heard from anyone concerning my applications for study. Finally in July I did get a letter from Glasgow and from Cornell admitting me to their respective programs. The response from Glasgow was positive, but with a caveat that I might be called up to her majesties forces. From Cornell University it was admission to the Agricultural School, the Department of Poultry Husbandry, with credit for the course I had taken all these years ago in Glasgow.
The decision was an obvious one. We go to Cornell.  School started in about a month, we needed tickets and more important visas’ to the USA. The US consulate that issued visas was in Tel Aviv. I travelled down to Tel Aviv (I must have taken time off work) and found a long line of people, I assume wanting to leave the country. We were given a number and I was told it might take more than a day until my turn comes.  Each applicant would have to be interviewed by someone in the office. Even in these days it was difficult to get a visa to the US. I had one advantage, instead of applying for a temporary visa as students do today, I could apply for an immigrant visa under the British quota, which in that year was undersubscribed. Since Mimi also now had a British passport and was a British citizen, this would not be a problem. I physically pushed my way into the consulate.  I had to fill out an immigration application, sit a medical (both of us) and get our visas all within a month. This they could not promise. I returned after about a month, physically jumped to the head of the line (after all this was what most Israeli’s do) and I remember being evicted from the office. Finally I did get to talk with someone who was helpful and we had our immigrant visas just in time.  Next stop was New York and we thought Cornell, Ithaca..

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

1956-57 Sinai war, leaving the kibbutz, and job hunting

1956-57. Sinai war, leaving the kibbutz and job hunting in Israel.
As recounted previously while in the Israeli army we had set up ambushes to try and stop the Fedayeen from crossing from Egypt into Israel to carry out terrorist attacks. In 1956 alone, about 250 Israeli’s had been killed due to this activity. Not only was there terrorist activity, but also Egypt under Nasser had blocked both the Suez Canal and the outlet to the Red Sea from the Israeli port of Eilat through the straits of Tiran. In the summer of 1956 he had nationalized the Suez Canal and had threatened shipping of other countries. Both the British and French previously had run the canal, and Britain had a large number of investments in Egypt. In order to build the Aswan Dam, Nasser had turned to the Russians after European powers had turned down his request for assistance. All of these events triggered a short war in October of 1956 known later as the Sinai or Suez war. Israel’s aim was to stop the fedayeen , destroy the Egyptian army, and open the port of Eilat on the Red sea. The French and British wanted to retake control of the Suez Canal .
As soon as the war started we were on alert, since having just been “ demobbed” we expected to be the first to be called up. However it took a day or so before this happened. We were ordered to muster in Haifa, and then were to be transported to a camp in the South of Israel. Haifa to my surprise was full of French sailors, with their red pom-poms, being carried in trucks, and giving the V- sign. This was unexpected, and of course we asked ourselves what did this mean? France and Britain entered this war a few days later ostensibly to protect the Suez Canal from damage, but really to control the area. I will discuss the ramifications of this later on. We ( he public) were completely unaware of any collusion between Israel and the French and particularly British, who only a few years previously had been enemies of the Jewish State.
We were sent as a group to Sarafand, an ex-British army camp, not far from Tel Aviv. By the time we got there, the war was half over, and I think there must have been a shortage of equipment, since we were told to wait for rifles, machine guns etc and instead of seeing action we sat and played bridge. I remember being very bored. The news was all up beat about victories in the Sinai, and of course Israeli troops reached the Suez Canal, with the French and British attacking Egypt from the other side of Suez.
Unfortunately the US (President Eisenhower) was not in agreement with the aims of the UK and France and through the UN ordered a stop to the war. There was fear that the Russians might intervene on the side of Egypt, as well as the feeling that the US could not condemn the ongoing Russian invasion of Hungary and at the same time support the “ imperial” powers. This of course bolstered Nasser, and instead of a defeat he would claim victory. This was an enormous mistake on the part of the US and had repercussions for a long time (and probably still does to this day). However Israel did prove that it had the power to defeat once again a major Arab power, occupy the Sinai and for some time prevent incursions of the fedayeen. Airpower and the use of parachutists was the major Israeli strategy. Israel demanded the opening of the straits of Tiran and the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping. Although there was unceasing pressure from the US to withdraw from the Sinai, and even threats of sanctions against Israel, it was not until Egypt agreed to open the straits that Israel withdrew from the Sinai. To a large extent, Eisenhower and his foreign secretary Dulles prevented Israel from enjoying the fruit of victory and if it was not for internal public pressure the US would have sided completely with Egypt.
Some of our group did see action. At least three members were parachuted into the Mitla Pass, the site of a major battle in the Sinai. These were Van Emden, Mike Leaf, and Phil Shearskey. Mike was seriously wounded but made a complete recovery. He today is a very well known artist with an international reputation with a studio in Safed. Van has remained a good friend, lives in Haifa, and for many years worked for ZIM the Israeli shipping company. Phil unfortunately died of cancer rather young.
Anyhow, I returned to the kibbutz after a few days, to Mimi waiting expectantly. It was shortly after this and after a visit to Kiryat Bialik and Mimi’s mother that we decided to both leave the kibbutz, and get married. Mimi had decided that she did not want to bring up children in the kibbutz and she had encountered some unpleasantness from one of the “ old Timers” about working for along period in the kitchen. However we really had not thought through our future, since I had no trade, apart from shepherding sheep and driving a tractor, and also no education, not even a high school certificate. What was I going to do, and how was I going to earn a living.? We must have moved out of the kibbutz and to Kiryat Bialik in November of 1956. At the same time there was a general exodus from the kibbutz, with Mike and Thilda and their baby Anat leaving the same day, on the same truck, followed a few days later by Una and Van, Lottie and Barry and my co-worker in the “sheep” pens, Les Collins. All of them moved to one of the suburbs of Haifa. I think it was like an infection that spread through the kibbutz, and led to the disintegration of the garin (group) and everything that we had dreamed and worked towards for the last 10 years of our lives.
I think this disintegration was a result of general dissatisfaction with kibbutz life, the reality, as opposed to the dream. We found out that people, no matter how idealistic, were human, and had human foibles. There was jealousy and nastiness, there were those who were more ambitious than others, and those who wanted to “lord” it over others. Some did not like the idea of someone else (whom they did not like or appreciate or really looked down upon) bringing up their children. The problem of having children sleeping together in children’s home at a very young age and not at home did not appeal to others. There were also economic considerations, the resentment that some members had more money than others from parents or other sources (reparations from Germany). These were not shared with the group. The girls in the group objected to working all day in the kitchen, washing up, or in the “ machsan” sewing and ironing clothes. As an economic unit the kibbutz was quite successful, although subsidized by the labor government of the time. However the overall economy was capitalistic, so that the kibbutz competed in the free market with other business. The culture that we had experienced in Hachshara, the intellectual discussions, the listening to music together was absent. Work tired us out.
I have often wondered what it would have been like to have remained on the kibbutz. Today, when I visit Amiad , I find that many of those who did remain do not appear to be very happy with their lot. They sacrificed a lot and have little to show for it. Agriculture is no longer the mainstay of the kibbutz. There is a factory and workers are paid salaries based on their position in the factory. Many of these come from outside the kibbutz. The kibbutz has undergone huge changes with privatization, private ownership of houses and other property, allocation of resources, pensions to older people, car ownership by private individuals. In fact everything is in flux. However even without these changes brought about by generation three of the kibbutz, life was disappointing for many. In many cases the children of the first generation (the founders) have left for the city or even for the USA or other countries. For those who stayed on I think there is a sense of betrayal and bitterness. Tommy B., my childhood friend from Glasgow is one of the few who seems happy. His children except for one have stayed in the kibbutz, He has grandchildren who remained, and for most of his life he has been an academic doing research in his own lab on limnology of the Sea of Galilee. This has offered him the opportunity to travel and work elsewhere. He even has a new species of algae called after him. Others of the group who remained are now teachers, or retired teachers, from junior colleges in the Upper Galilee. Most took classes as the kibbutz became wealthier and finished their education in middle age. In the end most of my group had managerial or teaching positions within the kibbutz or even outside, so that life changed, mostly for the women, but very slowly. I think the biggest blow, was seeing ones children leave, since sacrifices had been made for future generations. In fact the extended family has become the dominant unit within the kibbutz rather than the individual. This is seen in the communal dining room, which is now only used on Friday evenings or on holidays, where each family may occupy an extended table. To have your children leave the kibbutz is in a way a failure.

The first task after leaving the kibbutz was to find jobs for both of us. It was agreed that we would move into Mimi’s mother’s apartment in Kiryat Bialik. This was a small apartment with two bedrooms, a sitting room, and a small kitchen and sort of hallway. It was one of the apartments built very quickly to house new immigrants. It was in a three story structure with I believe 6 apartments per house. Mimi had designed the furniture, which was very modern, you might say Bauhaus style, , with contrasting colors of black and white wood. I slept in the living room on the couch before our wedding.
We had many plans for the future, all in Israel. We looked into the possibility of growing flowers for export ( a thriving business in Israel) on land left to the family by Mimi’s grandfather. This was land not far from Kiryat Bialik, bought by him in the 1930’s. Although zoned for agriculture, when we inquired about getting water to the area, we were told this was impossible for the foreseeable future. We were up against Israeli bureaucracy. So we quickly gave up this idea. This land is still in the family, still untouched, and being used by one of the nearby kibbutzim for growing grain. It should have been rezoned for building, but this has been pending for many years and nothing has happened.. Perhaps if we had settled down and thought it through we would have fought the bureaucracy and obtained permission to put in water, but it would have been a long fight, and we did not have the funds to hire a lawyer.
Mimi found a job without difficulty as a chemistry lab technician for Hemed ( the army research branch), and I went for interviews to agricultural schools for a position as an instructor in some field. I was offered a job at the agricultural high school in Nahalal to teach “ shepherding”.. This was a well-known agricultural school, but the position was only part time, and did not pay very much. Here one of my friends, Zvi Goffer intervened. Zvi had married one of our girls , Chava, while in the army and felt I could do better than this and suggested I turn the job down, find something else, and consider studying, which he was planning to do. Zvi had been our sergeant major in the army, was slightly older than I, and we both looked up to him. He was originally from Argentina, and after completing the army had looked into the possibilities of studying chemistry. Eventually he completed a BS and then a Ph.D., at London University and later afte, and worked as a chemical archaeologist at the Hebrew University. I thus declined the position at Nahalal continued job-hunting, and found a position in the office of the ministry of agriculture in Haifa. This was quite interesting work, to work along with a prospective Ph.D. candidate from the Hebrew University school of agriculture, Michael Taran, who was doing his Ph.D. on the effect of high temperature on poultry in the Jordan Valley, and also studying the incidence and genetics of leukemia in chickens. My job was to crunch numbers on coefficients of inbreeding, and to accompany him to the Jordan Valley ( Ashdod Yaacov, Kinnereth, Degania ) to obtain records of egg production and whether it was influenced by the heat of the Jordan Valley. It was a good job, and I enjoyed it, although I was once warned by a co-worker that I worked to hard !. The office was a small one on the third floor of a large building on “ rehov Atzmaut” ( Independence way ) or what had previously been called “rehov habankim” in the old section of Haifa. This was close to the port area and used to contain all the foreign banks of the mandate. It was very close to the old Arab area, which was partly destroyed and quite run down. I took a bus every day from the Tsrif in Kiryat Haim to downtown, a ride in these days of about 15 minutes. Today with traffic it would probably take longer. The Tsrif was the main bus terminal in Kiryat Haim and was a landmark known by everyone. It is no longer there but replaced with a real bus terminal and restaurants. I worked in the office with a Mrs Leiberman, who kept an eye on me in a nice way, and looked after me, and the head of the department was a decent guy, a Dr. Z. Ben Adam who later gave me some good advice and was instrumental in my being accepted by Cornell University. In these days I know very little about academic hierarchy, and interacted I suppose with everyone in an equal fashion. Mrs. Leiberman was a middle-aged woman, probably of German-Jewish origin, long hair tied back in a bun, and looked very strict. However she was very protective of me. In the office we talked a mixture of English and Hebrew, so that language was not a problem. When I started work I had not intenion of going to the States, and I was quite happy with the position.

We adjusted quite well to our life in Kiryat Bialik. We had two groups of friends, mine from the kibbutz, and Mimi’s high school friends, although at this time most were in the army. They were mostly Sabras and found it difficult to accept me , an immigrant from the UK into their midst. I likewise found them immature and childish, and this did become a source of friction between Mimi and myself. My Hebrew was not good and this made matters worse. With the passing of time, I have become more acceptable to this group of Mimi’s friends, and when we meet now I feel quite comfortable, despite my “ broken” Hebrew.